BWW Review: REVENGE SONG Rocks the Real-Life Journey of Queer 17th Century French Swordswoman Julie d'Aubigny in Rocky Horror Style
Since the world premiere of Vietgone in 2015, Qui Nguyen has become one of the most lauded and sought-after contemporary American Playwrights, as well as being a writer for Marvel and Disney. The world premiere of REVENGE SONG, his new rousing, romping, music-filled look at the real life of Julie d'Aubigny, a queer 17th century French swordswoman and opera singer, offers an exciting, entertaining, and rollicking theatrical experience, ingeniously directed by Robert Ross Parker that is sure to please rowdy fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show during the heroine's interactive journey toward self-discovery and acceptance.
REVENGE SONG, which Qui Nguyen built with his OBIE Award-winning, New York-based Vampire Cowboys Theater Company that develops new action/adventure plays with a comic book aesthetic, is being presented as a Geffen Playhouse commission in which conversations about gender and sexuality blend together with the outrageous fun and superhero style to create a genre unto itself - a hilarious, historical comedy with hip hop, rock and epic fight scenes. Adding to the fun are satirical references to more musicals than I could count, including Hamilton, Cabaret, Company, Avenue Q, Beauty and the Beast, and Bye Bye Birdie.
The show opens with its emcee, Madame de Senneterre (Amy Kim Waschke, dressed in leather and using a riding crop to her attention-grabbing advantage to set the tone of audience participation appropriate during the show) introducing Julie d'Aubigny, a 17th century French swordswoman and opera singer on the verge of discovering her true queer nature. Energetic and sexy Margaret Odette bring Julie fully to riotous life, from her upbringing as a courtesan through her self-realization that there was more to life than being a wife a mother unable to speak up for herself or her own needs.Along the way, Madame introduces each scene, often time travelling through Julie's life, and introducing each of the supporting players we will be seeing, all portrayed by an extraordinarily talented group of triple-threat performers including Noshir Dalal (as Serannes, Gaston the self-centered Royal after Julie's body, and others), Beth Hawkes (as Julie's love interest Emily and others), Tom Myers (as Louis the bad guy Royal, Gaulard the gold lamé jumpsuit singer, and others) and Eugene Young (as romantic swashbuckler Albert and others). Basically, the story centers around Julie and her BFF Albert who defends her every move, hoping to finally win Julie's heart and take her as his wife. But with his proposal, Julie realizes she needs more than just being a wife and mother to feel fulfilled, not an easy feat for a low-born 17th Century Frenchwoman. And so her journey of self-discovery begins with Albert defending her honor in a fencing duel, to the bed of Emily, her first of many lesbian lovers, and her time spent as a nun in a convent under the fierce domination of Amy Kim Waschke as Mother Superior. There are so many moments of sheer hysteria and musical brilliance during the production, I hardly know where to begin or how much I should really reveal to not to spoil the fun you will have being part of this thoroughly modern treat. Perhaps it's best to imagine yourself as the cast does from the beginning as drunk on red wine, laughable French people and just let yourself laugh along with them from start to finish as they make fun of themselves at every turn, especially when interacting with Avenue Q-type puppets who offer more social satire per second during their scenes. And be prepared to interact with Julie and Albert as they introduce Act 2 from among the audience, often speaking directly to audience members as they journey up and down the aisles until everyone is seated, or with Madame as she often sits at the edge of the stage and flirts with those in the front row! And then there's that German with the mohawk who just might intimidate you a bit, or make you wet your pants with laughter!
Many technical elements enhance this awesome world premiere, including scenic and lighting design by Nick Francone, outrageously perfect costumes by Jessica Shay, sound design by Shane Rettig, projections designed by Kaitlyn Pietras and Jason H. Thompson which take us from the streets of Paris to the wondrous world of French royalty where puppets and creatures designed by David Valentine offer moments of real belly laughs, while Ryan O'Connell's music direction and vocal arrangements, choreography by Stacy Dawson Stearns, and fight choreography (with lots of great fencing and sword play) by Maggie MacDonald and Tim Brown will keep totally engaged with Julie during her exciting life adventures.
Grab your tickets soon before performances sell out! REVENGE SONG: A VAMPIRE COWBOYS CREATION, written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Robert Ross Parker continues through Sunday, March 8 on Tuesday-Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. in the Gil Cates Theater at Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Tickets currently priced at $30- 120, available in person at The Geffen Playhouse box office, by phone at 310.208.5454 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org. Rush tickets for each day's performance are made available to the general public 30 minutes before showtime at the box office. $35General/$15 Student. Please note this production includes graphic adult language and situations, so leave the kids at home!
Photo credit: Jeff Lorch